Archive for October, 2010

Blinkered Bankers

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 October 28th, 2010 Shibangi DasShibangi Das

One of the first things that was drilled into my intellect and conscience in management school was that you will never be able to do good business till you treat your employees and your customers with respect and aim at keeping your service standards top class. Apparently it is not done as well in a whole lot of other places, not even India’s so called best private sector banks, whose business these days seem to centre more around their elaborate and fancy “service” and the deceptive interest rates they offer.

As a student in New Delhi I had a savings account with a very reputed and large public sector bank, where I may not have been impressed by their old and tiny building and old fashioned teller counters, but the people were warm; they knew each customer individually (which is no joke as a huge chunk of University students and residents of the area banked with them) and they made sure your concerns were taken care of. They always did it with a smile that reached their eyes. Even now I can call them from another city for any kind of assistance. And I must give due credit to them because I am never disappointed.

Recently my ATM card got stuck in an ATM machine that belonged to a very popular private sector Indian bank. What followed was a series of exasperating explanations of where exactly the ATM machine was located, for the lady didn’t know the locations of the four ATM Machines of her bank in that one commercial compound where her office was. Even more frustrating was the follow-up. Either there would be no one picking up the phone in the bank as I seemed to have surgically attached the phone to my ear, or they would keep redirecting me to a different extension every time I was tricked into believing that I was finally going to be heard. On the umpteenth call, when I decided to give the cheeky lady on the other end a piece of my mind, she had the gall to interrupt me and say a very evidently unapologetic “Sorry ma’am. But you have to call Ms. X on extension ’so-and-so’.” The voice, very unfeeling (of any sense of the ’sorry’ word), cold and informal, left me extremely annoyed.

At the end of 10 days of follow-up (for a 3 day process) that involved retelling my ordeal to a new person every time someone at the bank decided to be kind enough to pick up the shrilly trilling phone on her desk, I was bluntly told that my card had been destroyed as no one approached the bank claiming it. Apparently they have a rule which tells them to destroy any lost/misplaced ATM card lying with them if a claim for it is not made within three working days. If this didn’t make me lose my temper, I had to be the saintliest person in the world.

Lots of indignant statements and a-lecture-on-quality-customer-service later, I gave up on the patronising tone of the irritating bank lady and hung up on her. According to her it was my fault that I did not start my follow up process earlier, notwithstanding that a written application with my contact coordinates were handed over to the bank and my phone number was given to them every time I spoke to yet another person on the rolls of that bank branch. For a bank that makes an obscene amount of money in profits and harps on endlessly about high levels of customer satisfaction in its TVCs, this was a disappointment of the sorest kind.

Cut to my dear “down market” PSU bank branch back in Delhi to whom the ATM card actually belonged. After just one call and a very warm exchange of genuine pleasantries, they blocked my old ATM card, put up a request for another ATM Card and asked me to fax a letter to them detailing the problem and requesting them to send my new card to my new place of residence. It’s been only 4 days, and I have a brand new ATM card already.

Which brings me back to my very strong belief in the power of treating your customer right. I would want to continue banking with the PSU bank, despite it being an old fashioned student account that doesn’t allow me the facilities of phone or internet banking (ha! you’d think). At least they are courteous. At least they stand by their word. At least they make me feel valued and important. At least their normal human common sense is not overruled by lengthy written-down procedures. No wonder they have survived the invasion of the new-age blinker-bankers with aplomb.

Can we please ban text speak?

Monday, October 25th, 2010 October 25th, 2010 Aabhas Sharma

“Tht gol ws awesum”, my friend told me while chatting on the Internet the other day. I don’t need to explain what he means as we live in a world where Text Speak is considered to be cool and used by almost everyone – age no bar. But still for those who couldn’t decipher that, he actually meant “That goal was awesome”. Five extra alphabets and it would have been a proper sentence.

Not to sound too pedantic about the whole thing but I am not a fan of using text speak at every given opportunity. Fair enough, if you text from your mobile phone and want to save money or if you are in middle of a meeting and can’t reply for some reason. But while writing e-mails or chatting, people try to use Text Speak. What becomes “wht”. Then becomes “thn”. Life becomes “Lyf”. “Ya” somehow becomes You. The one which really annoys me the most is when people write “Enuff”. For crying out loud, it’s not even less number of alphabets and yet people continue to spell it incorrectly under the cool cloak of text speak.

With today’s generation I actually wonder if this is how they write in their examination papers as well. They are so used to texting, chatting, in fact they have even invaded the once-sacred space for serious office goers, the Blackberry Messenger (yes, everyone is a Blackberry Boy these days). I can’t understand how hard is it to put just one alphabet to make it read like a normal word or a sentence. This is while you have a full-fledged keyboard at your disposal. Put A in Wht and it becomes what. Put ‘O’ and ‘E’ and Luv becomes Love. It’s just being lazy and completely ignorant, forget disregarding the correct spelling of these words.

Social media has given birth to a whole new generation of people who tend to use this kind of language, or as they would call it “lingo”. You can still pardon people to a certain extent who use Twitter since the character space is restricted. But on Facebook and other social networking sites, it looks downright stupid. Somebody I know has an album on Facebook titled “Lyf or smthng lyk tht”. And this is someone who is 30 years old and not a teenager trying to be uber cool in cyberspace.
Every time I see an e-mail which ignores punctuation marks or the usage of upper case in a new sentence, I wonder if it is actually so hard to write properly.  I don’t mean putting the commas at the right place but the complete disregard of punctuation is mind boggling. And the worst part is there are a lot of journalists who are guilty of this charge.
I guess it’s okay when you are having informal conversations with your friends over text messages or even chatting (that’s also wrong to a certain extent) but when writing professional mails to colleagues or seniors, it’s just not right. You can put it down to ignorance and laziness. How seriously can you take an official or professional mail when, thanks to usage of text speak, there are spelling mistakes and is devoid of apostrophes? If you’re too lazy to write out the whole thing properly, then just don’t write it. You are getting the message across but in the most unprofessional manner.
We are all guilty of using text speak at some point or the other. But most people go overboard with it and just end up looking quite silly. Can we please stop butchering the language in order to look cool or in order to save a few precious seconds? I understand that there’s no getting away from the fact that text speak is here to stay. However, there’s a reason why it is called text speak. Restrict it to texting and let it not take over the language.

CWG over :) Let the games begin…

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010 October 20th, 2010 Joydeep Ghosh

October 14: Common Wealth Games (CWG) closing ceremony
October 15: Prime Minister felicitates CWG Winners. (Suresh Kalmadi reportedly ignored)
October 16: Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandi meet CWG Winners. (Suresh Kalmadi reportedly ignored)
October 16: Sheila Dikshit: The “real corruption seems to be with regard to the money given as loans to the Organising Committee (OC)”.
October 17: Suresh Kalmadi: The OC cannot be made ’scapegoats any more.’ Shiela Dikshit’s aspersions on corruption in the OC were “most disappointing and uncalled for” and that she must indulge in self-reflection on corruption in her own departments. Keeping quiet should not be interpreted as a “sign of weakness”.
In an interview to a television channel … Mr Kalmadi: The prime minister’s office invited me for the felicitation.
CAG, IT- departments probes initiated. Reports suggest that CWG scam worth Rs 8,000 crore.

The CWG hangover is barely over. But both newspapers and television channels are having a ball with all the related ‘breaking news’.
Saina Nehwal, who won that famous last-minute goal medal, to take India ahead of Britain has been relegated back to the sports page. The other winners share the same fate. Instead, we have a bunch of people (read politicians) who are hogging the limelight. As usual, for all the wrong reasons.
But what interests me is something else. Let’s assume that it is proved that there was an Rs 8,000 crore scam, what happens then?
Will the money be recovered, even some part of it, and paid back to the government?
Then, the bigger question: How will the government use this windfall?
Will it be used to bring down the fiscal deficit (even if, marginally)? At least, some international agency will improve our sovereign rating. Or,
Will there be another programme for the poor? At least, 25 per cent should reach them. Or,
Will the taxpayer, whose money was shamelessly wasted, be given some relief?
None, I feel.
At best, we will just identify the culprits and initiate a few more probes.
Let the games begin :)

Brain-dead beauty

Monday, October 11th, 2010 October 11th, 2010 Rrishi Raote

On the day of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, chief minister Sheila Dikshit gave a TV interview in which she managed to appear at once smug and humble. She tut-tutted gently about the mess in the run-up to the Games, when preparations were not directly in her hands, and, because she was far wilier than the interviewer, was allowed to dwell upon what she described as her government’s success at cleaning things up at the last minute. Then she neatly turned the tables on the interviewer by tut-tutting sorrowfully about how self-indulgent and childish the media had been in focusing only on Games disasters while there was such sterling evidence of success: the Yamuna flood relief measures that had been organised at such short notice and on such a large scale. And so on. Plainly you have to get up early to catch this CM on the wrong foot.

One of the more interesting, though perhaps predictable things Dikshit said was in response to a question or two on the apparent banishment of beggars from the streets of central Delhi. Is that democratic and fair, she was asked. No such thing happened, the CM replied, adding contradictorily that anyway several homeless shelters had been put up, and after all, she said sweetly, “If you have guests coming over then wouldn’t you want your home to look beautiful?” (I don’t remember her exact words, but this was roughly it.)

I found this interesting for all sorts of reasons. First, clearly it is true. Yes, with guests on their way, I would like my home to do me credit. Second, it is brazen. It amounts to saying that beggars and urban blight amount to the same thing and are unlovely and for that reason it is OK to hide them away when someone calls. Third, these clearly aren’t your neighbourhood friends visiting. You are not on equal terms with these guests; you hope they will go away impressed.

This is still somewhat OK. One is used to this. The thing is that, beggars (and that’s a catch-all term for all sorts of “undesirables”) aside, the beautification of Delhi has been a curiously brain-dead procedure. In the last several months pavements have been redone in smooth stone not concrete slabs, nicely turned bollards planted to keep automobiles off pavements, kerbs brightly repainted and re-repainted, roads relaid and widened, new streetlamps installed on new poles, walls given fresh coats, new street signage set up, new grass laid down…

So it isn’t a new Delhi that’s come out of all this. (I’m not counting the Metro and airport, because they are not just for the Games.) It’s just a neater version of the old Delhi. And, in the nature of Indian things, it is extremely unlikely to last.

This seems like a great loss, because how often does our government show itself willing and energetic enough to revamp a whole megacity? Could we not have done something a little more interesting than apply spit and polish? Delhiites are not noted for their civic behaviour, so no meaningful change would have been easy to accomplish. But this was a good opportunity to try.

Here are a few things I can think of that we might have tried. Restrain your disbelief as you look through them. Eventually they will have to be done, or else our city will become unlivable, unviable.

1. Greenbelts. We could have revived the Ridge by freezing any further encroachment and turfing out the greedy armed forces. We could have planted belts of sturdy trees around the city, especially toward the west and southwest, to help keep out the desert sand and dust.

2. We could have done more to clean up the Yamuna. We didn’t, and yet the Games Village sits on the Yamuna bed, looking out at ugly road bridges and power plants. That’s ingratitude.

3. Only the top few most-visited historical monuments have got the loving treatment. How about the dozens of important ones, and the hundreds of minor but beautiful ones? Instead another huge chunk of Siri has been scraped clean of trees and sports facilities built on top. This is appallingly stupid and short-term behaviour.

4. Urban farming. Instead of buying ill-treated vegetables from the Yamuna bed and nearby districts, at least some urban demand could be met by urban farming. You might not think it, but Delhi does have plenty of spare land in state and private hands. Tell us how, give incentives, make neighbourhood sales and supply possible.

5. Instead of an isolated luxury “village” for delegates which will later belong to affluent Delhi investors, how about something along the lines of DDA projects for middle-class housing? Here was a chance to get DDA to build to high standards and innovate once again for a better balance between private and communal living (private developers have lost the plot on that).

6. Making Delhi more walkable. It’s not just pavements that are needed. That too, but also something to give them life. A mix of streetside activities, places to sit. Most important, perhaps, covered walks to keep the sun off walkers — ancient Roman and even some Indian cities did this with long, shady, useful arcades along streets. It could be done in many parts of Delhi.

7. Showcasing slums instead of banishing them. The world knows about India’s urban slums, yet, foolishly and pointlessly, we keep trying to hide them. That’s a lost opportunity. Of course, being comfortable with our slums would involve actually allowing them to exist. The middle and upper classes have always needed a pool of servants near at hand. So, try whatever works: providing water and sewerage, legal electricity, small loans, applying basic building standards, ID cards, local council…

8. Really doing something about parking. This argument about less parking = less cars on the road = more people in public transport is not in tune with Indian reality. Have better, ample, paid parking. Change the rate regime, for sure, but give people space to put their cars. Eventually we might all use electric cars, but personal transport is here to stay.

There are lots more. The irony is that such a programme of renewal, and the colossal publicity it would have gathered, might actually have brought us the tide of tourists the Commonwealth Games have not. And we would have been more confident, possibly happier, and probably better off — immediately as well as in the long term.

Keeping Track

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010 October 6th, 2010 Praveen Bose

The job the political news reporter can be quite unenviable. It’s especially so ar a time when the political situation is very fluid.

There are often a dozen voices and over two dozen opinions from ‘leaders’ of all hues and sitting legislators. Karnataka’s political situation was very challenging indeed for political reporters. All reporters were groping for the latest.

What is the latest for one, often ends up being a stale news for someone else. As a fellow journalist quipped: “I don’t have time even answer the call of nature. don’t know when the government would fall or who would issue a political statement.”

Unlike most planned events, a political uncertainly and political developments often is not something one can plan for. A report6er would be at sea if he tried working on his own, using his brains alone without being in touch with others who could be their chief rivals even.

When a section of legistors raised the banner of revolt, it became a challenge to figure out who was the kingpin in the first place. With all legislators being gagged, no one seemed to know wht was happening. All were left guessing as to what would be the greatest possibility.

One minute the chief ministry said all was well, and then another minute you heard a section people threatening to pull down the government and even submitting a memorandum to the governor threatening to withdraw support.

So, you are left wondering if the chief minister is as much at sea as us while trying to guess if his seat is safe. I am sure while being seated on his chair, he would be time and again checking to see if all four legs of the chair are intact.

One emissary who was sent by the chief minister to mollify the revolting legislators ended up sending his resignation after meeting the revolting leaders. Why? What? How? Which? All these queries began to rise and so did the blood pressure of colleagues who are always scared they are missing out on something.

As we leave for home, the political developments follow us home. We are left wondering if we can say who has switched loyalties and where he has gone and who is quitting. ‘Aaya ram, gaya ram’. Ram, ram!

When we wake up the next day will it be a new government? Sounds very Italian!

Twitterrific

Monday, October 4th, 2010 October 4th, 2010 J Jagannath

Owing to a few unforeseen circumstances I had to get off Facebook and that left a huge void in my life. No amount of magazine reading or foreign movies or indie music (heard Arcade Fire’s latest?) was able to fill this void. Like North Korea, my life too was turning into a black hole. At the suggestion of a friend whose political views are questionable, I joined Twitter and it has been liberating, to say the least.

The very fact that within 140 characters I need to get my point across lends so much literary heft to that old saw “brevity is the wit of soul” (Emma Thompson be damned). If Facebook is about people you are friends with, Twitter is about people you want to be friends with. Twitter has people whose work I respect and unless pigs fly at regular intervals I am not going to meet them in my lifetime. Twitter tells me what’s going on in the mind of Susan Orlean or Margaret Atwood. My joy knew no bounds when Bret Easton Ellis tweeted about the same music that I was listening to.

Yes, there is a fair bit of jingoism like the Ayodhya hashtag when every Indian is supposed to wait for the verdict. But hey this is far better than the numerous Facebook groups that go viral within no time. While Facebook was always about me where I had to keep a new status update or update at least one picture every day, Twitter allows me to indulge and still allows me to appreciate the tweets of the people I follow.

In fact, your state of mind can be gauged by the kind of people you follow. The literary types follow New Yorker and Granta. Those who swear by Mother India definitely follow Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Tharoor, Rajdeep Sardesai. The Bollywood crazy haven’t arrived on Twitter unless Priyanka Chopra, Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek Bachchan are on the “you are following” list. No, the last kind doesn’t mind the ten exclamation marks that are all-pervasive in these movie celebrities’ vacuity-personified tweets (most of them).

In the latest New Yorker issue, Malcolm Gladwell pooh-poohed Twitter’s ability to alter public perception (case in point: recent Iran elections where Mousavi’s supporters tweeted Ahmadinejad’s alleged machinations). Economist even had a headline that read “CNN-0, Twitter-1”. Gladwell notes that weak-tie networks don’t have the dedication and structure to take on an established power structure. Martin Luther King, Jr, he says, had a one million dollar budget and 100 staff members on the ground when he got to Birmingham.

Alexis Madrigal, a technology writer for The Atlantic magazine, counters Gladwell: “Even if we said that no current effort rises to the level of a sit-in, I wouldn’t bet against powerful movements developing through social media over the next decade. People are still learning how to organize online.”

At a time when Sensex is flirting with the 20,000-mark, I would say that I am bullish on this blue chip to scale all possible heights on the social network bourse.